Monday, May 31, 2010

Tuesday Poem

To be alive
by Gregory Orr

To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That's crudely put, but…

If we're not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?


Gregory Orr was born in 1947 in Albany, New York, and grew up in the rural Hudson Valley, and for a year, in a hospital in the hinterlands of Haiti. He received a B.A. degree from Antioch College, and an M.F.A. from Columbia University.

He is the author of nine collections of poetry, including How Beautiful the Beloved (Copper Canyon Press, 2009); Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved (2005); The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems (2002); Orpheus and Eurydice (2001); Burning the Empty Nests (1997); City of Salt (1995), which was a finalist for the L.A. Times Poetry Prize; and Gathering the Bones Together (1975).

He is also the author of a memoir, The Blessing (Council Oak Books, 2002), which was chosen by Publisher's Weekly as one of the fifty best non-fiction books the year, and three books of essays, including Poetry As Survival (2002) and Stanley Kunitz: An Introduction to the Poetry (1985).

He is considered by many to be a master of short, lyric free verse. Much of his early work is concerned with seminal events from his childhood, including a hunting accident when he was twelve in which he accidentally shot and killed his younger brother, followed shortly by his mother's unexpected death, and his father's later addiction to amphetamines. Some of the poems that deal explicitly with these incidents include "A Litany," "A Moment," and "Gathering the Bones Together," in which he declares: "I was twelve when I killed him; / I felt my own bones wrench from my body." In the opening of his essay, "The Making of Poems," broadcast on National Public Radio's All Things Considered, Orr said, "I believe in poetry as a way of surviving the emotional chaos, spiritual confusions and traumatic events that come with being alive."

In a review of Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved from the Virginia Quarterly Review, Ted Genoways writes: "Sure, the trappings of modern life appear at the edges of these poems, but their focus is so unwaveringly aimed toward the transcendent—not God, but the beloved—that we seem to slip into a less cluttered time. It's an experience usually reserved for reading the ancients, and clearly that was partly Orr's inspiration."

Orr has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and two poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2003, he was presented the Award in Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was a Rockefeller Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Culture and Violence, where he worked on a study of the political and social dimension of the lyric in early Greek poetry.

He teaches at the University of Virginia, where he founded the MFA Program in Writing in 1975, and served from 1978 to 2003 as Poetry Editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review. He lives with his wife, the painter Trisha Orr, and their two daughters in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day

My friend Tom has asked me to read something in honor of his wife, my friend, Carol, at her memorial on the solstice. It seems fitting that I write some lines for this, for her. In some ways, I've been composing these in my head since she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, some seventeen years ago. That's a long time to contemplate, to let an idea simmer on way-low-low-low, barely any flame until now. And what do I have, so far? Oh, so very little.

How does one define a life, a friendship, in two or three minutes? I wrote her a poem years ago, post-mastectomy, about gathering all the rain-sodden delphiniums in my garden and carrying them to her door. Today at Trader Joe's, in this late-May downpour, there were foil-wrapped pots of river-blue delphiniums for sale at the entrance.

My inclination is to revisit other deaths, to reside there for just a bit. Forgive me for what I expect to be a continued melancholy, here. At least until I can get this worked out.

Friday, May 28, 2010


I wanted the blankets in which he wrapped himself

each night, sleeping wound in soft plaid fleece;

but a helpful sister, in need of a task

amid the hubbub of new death

had gathered every loose thread

and set them to rinse & spin.
I didn't need one then, I don't need one now....

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday Poem

Collapsed Catholic

Not catechism, but a free press.
Not First Holy Communion, but at least one meal a day.

Not sin, but a human condition.
Not confession, but truth.

Not a hair shirt, but cashmere.
Not a martyr, but The Fool.

Not the Eucharist, but devil’s food cake.
Not his blood, but a ’59 Chateau Margaux

Not abstinence, but a condom.
Not Immaculate Conception, but contraception.

Not a priest, but a lover.
Not a nun, but a lover.

Not a sacred heart, but a stem cell.
Not a pope, but a popular singer/songwriter.

Not a crucifix, but an old growth forest.
Not a rosary, but good luck.

Perhaps a soul.
And a saint, always.

© T. Clear

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Today was a good day. Yes.

My son's car died today, at my house. Parked in front. He limped it over here and declared it unsafe for travel. Hrrmph. Guess who's going to arrange for towing Monday morning!

Determined to still enjoy the afternoon, we decided to cook some fish for dinner, so we headed off to Uwajimaya to peruse the scaly offerings, but detoured to Mayuri, an Indian grocery store not far from my house. Within minutes of inhaling the curry, the garam masala, the cardamom and cinnamon, we switched to an Indian-themed dinner, and walked out with long thin hot green chillis, a hunk of ginger, a bag of black onion seeds (I bet there are 500,000 seeds in the bag) and an opo squash. Hungry! And still no fish.

Next stop was a store called simply Asian Market -- Uwajimaya somehow became lost to us. We pushed past the scads of late-afternoon Saturday shoppers, all the way to the back where the fish counter displayed a low, ice-packed table upon which sat at least a dozen varieties of whole fish: tillapia, mackerel, drum, catfish, bass, croaker, ribbonfish, carp -- the drill was to grab a plastic bag to cover your fingers, grab your fish, then hand it off to a fishmonger for cleaning/de-heading/de-tailing/weighing/pricing. So many languages everywhere around us! My son gave me a lesson on fish-selection, and we ended up with one very fresh rainbow trout.

Dinner was a feast -- a symphony for the senses. The fish, which Reilly broiled after rubbing it with an oil and spice concoction, made me weep.

So far, so good, all things considered. But I still had to drive R. back to Seattle (38 miles round-trip), and thunder was rattling the windows and it had begun to monsoon outside. And I desired only to crawl under the covers with a book and the cats.

But we set out, the fuel gauge flickering close to Empty. And, amazingly, we had one of those conversations that you can't plan -- the kind where you dig below the surface, get down to the nitty gritty, the truth of The Big Things: death -- both recent and familiar, as well as our fragile hopes, and dreaded fears. And the rain kept up its lashing, and we pushed on through the dark May night which rightfully should have been on the verge of balminess and scented with lovely blooming May things but instead smelled of the defroster on High. (Smelled like winter.)

I dropped him off, wished him well at his job-interview tomorrow (thankful for Light Rail), and headed back, listening to the Cuban-born father-and-son duet of Bebo and Chucho Valdes on piano. The rain eased; traffic was sparse at such a late hour, and I settled into a meditative state for the journey home.

Nearing my house, wisps of fog hung close to the ground, swirled and eddied into the night. Suddenly I wasn't ready for this day to end! I wanted to drive on with Bebo and Chucho, let the conversation with my son sink in and settle. But I gave in to a sensible instinct, and turned into my driveway. But sat there, in my car, long enough for this piece to finish:

Existing in this moment, with this music that is all about love (how can it be about anything else?), I would say that today was not a good day, but a perfect one.
I'm at a loss for words.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Recently, while with my 21-year-old son in a grocery store, I ran into a man I had dated six years ago. We did the usual "how are you's", and when he asked me what was new, I flashed my wedding ring. "Oh!" he said, then leaned in to my son to congratulate him! Ha! My son quickly put up his hands in a blocking gesture and began to shake his head and say "NO NO NO!" I couldn't help but burst out laughing, and in between guffaws, explained that the young handsome man at my side was not my husband. (My son, needless to say, was mortified.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tuesday Poem


Kept in a canning jar

disguised as plums or cherries,

spooned sparingly down throats

that could not utter Dad.

Mother boiled water,

set the timer.

Checked for hissing seals.

Nothing leaked.

© T. Clear

Originally appeared in Manzanita Quarterly.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Good. Yep.

I'm finding a place in the universe to put everything from these past weeks; there's a tiny flower/herb plot out front that is slowly filling with new life: violas, mint, thyme, sage, parsley, heliotrope, sage, +++. New ferns begin to sprout chartreuse fronds in the shady side-yard, and delicate silvery lamium glints in the dapples of sunlight which find a path through viburnum. A chicadee, an Oregon junco, a pair of Stellar's jays. The racoons make their nightly trek across the deck, and the cats -- inside -- go mad with snarls and hissing, gravelly gutteral growls which bring their own dissonant music to our home.

The fragrance of Indian cuisine scents the kitchen tonight: such olifactory magic in cardamom, cinnamom, garam masala, turmeric, onion, jalapenos, bay leaves, mustard seed. I found some dainty Rex sole at Uwajimaya and I've rubbed them with lemon, chili powder, etc., and they are sizzling under the broiler's fierce coil. The stovetop simmers with basmati rice and dhal; a pinot grigio chills in the refrigerator.

As my son Nelson wrote on facebook:
It's all good. The good, the bad, all of it: it's all good.
(Editing by, ahem, moi.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Not a lot to say here lately; nothing but a persistent jangling in the Brain Department. I testified Wednesday on the negligent management practices of my former business partner. Hard to believe it's been five years since I've suffered her presence, and in the courtroom she wouldn't meet my gaze. Interestingly enough, this was a divorce trial -- and I was a witness for her husband. The plaintiff is seeking big $$$ in addition to that which she's already pilfered, fraudulently, from her husband's bank account. There's more than a fair amount of bona-fide crazy behavior going on here -- crazy in the belongs-at-Western-State-Hospital department. Either that or a nice spartan little cell somewhere far, far away. (I vote for the cell.)

Sitting in the witness stand comes with its own agitation (thus the jangling). The attorney asked me questions on specific matters other than those for which he prepped me, so I had to think fast, and answer fast. And then the cross-examination, which, mercifully, was brief. It was the most I've seen of an actual courtroom outside of Law & Order. Needless to say, I am really glad it's over.

And it's pale comfort that I'm not the only person who fell victim to her 'charms'. I'm reminded by my husband that people like her excel at this type of manipulation. I can only imagine how many others have endured her predations.


And then we have my friend Carol, who I miss every day, and she's not even been gone a week. Already there's a list of things I want to discuss with her, tell her about. I want to make her laugh. I want her to make me laugh with her sharp, dry wit. Her take on the world always put everything in perspective, and I never left an encounter with her -- however brief -- without feeling better about something, without having my faith in the universe restored.


(This is the place in the blog entry where I emit a sigh: sigh.)


Two days in a row now there's been a starling on the wire outside the studio at work, belting out quite the fantastic string of melodies. When I stand out on the side walk and look up at it, the singing stops. Yesterday I made some chirruping sounds in his/her direction, and the bird mimicked them back to me. As disliked as these birds are, I never tire of their persistent chatty conversations. I always think of them as a kind of avian Tower of Babel when they gather in great numbers and shriek, wheeze, whistle, rattle and engage in their usual clickety-clackety brouhaha.

So I just want to say thank-you, starling.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dylan for Tom

This is for Tom Porter, husband of my friend/honorary-sister Carol who passed away last week:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tuesday Poem

No Tarte Bakery

Cup is empty, spilled

quarter by eighth

into cake of ashes,

bonedust. Spoon

minus table- and tea-.

Unhinged springform,

amorphous bundt. Sugar

dissolved, rippled

down drain. Powder, soda

whisked away. Praise

cookie no more,

praise nothing.

Once pie bubbled

golden with crowns --

not again. Rattle the lock,

lose the key. No taste,

no scent, no

filigree swirl

of icing. Not

a crumb.

© T. Clear

More Tuesday Poems can be found here.

Friday, May 7, 2010


The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

--Theodore Roethke


We stood in C.'s kitchen tonight
and toasted her memory with Cognac
and Pino Gris and Amarone: hefty swigs,
yet pale comfort. And then we danced to her favorite
songs, but all I can remember is something by
Van Morrison, alas. Addled with sorrow.

Her dog tried to get into the mortuary van
with the shell of her body, emptied of soul.
And the ancient black-and-white cat (nearing 19?)
stood vigil on the sidewalk. O sweet grief!
This sting of living leaves us gasping.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


We're going to be laughing for a long time about the practical joke we played at work last Friday. I started thinking about the term "practical joke" and found this on Wikipedia:

The term "practical" refers to the fact that the joke consists of someone doing something (a practice), instead of a verbal or written joke. A practical joke can be caused by the victim falling for a prank, the victim stumbling into a prank, the prankster forcing a prank on the victim, the prankster causing others to do something to the victim, or even causing the victim to do something to others. Sometimes more than one victim is used.

Hmm...the word victim seems a bit heavy-handed; I prefer recipient or beneficiary.

Here's a great prank, from Improv Everywhere:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I keep forgetting to bring the camera to work. Up to my elbows in color, which requires a particular degree of patience. Water-based oils, rubbed onto sandblasted glass. Colors blended together at the edges, colors becoming one another, becoming to one another, becoming each other. Becoming something else, at times, too. (And yes, I wear gloves.)

Yesterday after work I looked at what I was wearing and saw my colors from the day: cadet blue, sap green, chocolate brown, pane's grey. Trying to keep it neutral but the brights always rally at the back of my brain to Let! Us! In!

So I give in to fuschia or orange or yellow, and then must pull the intensity back down with grey or green or blue or brown. Or purple, which never fails to astound me. Purple! This color-thing does not come naturally to me. I've been for many years a word-handler, not a color-handler. But this workout for the brain feels like weight-lifting, and I grow more adept by the day. At least I think I do...there are days at a time when color fails me, abandons me gasping and confused. What is blue? What is red? What is every shade & hue in-between? I want to know. I want a definition for blue. I want to write it: a 25-line poem, internal rhyme, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc., and all that cannot possibly be said and yet, indeed, said about blue.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


It's Tuesday, it's May, already.
It's going so fast. The words of my friend C.,
in her waning days.

I stumbled onto a tender scene tonight:
C. lying in her bed, her husband nestled close,
their 23-year-old daughter snuggled next to Dad.
Older son attendant in a chair beside the bed.
I felt the intruder, but they insisted I visit.
C., with translucent skin delicately stretched
over a bone-frame. She was glowing again,
much like she was 17 years ago when she was
released from a month of chemo. I think that
perhaps she was teetering on the edge then,
and now she hesitates on the precipice.
I lingered only a few minutes --
I was robbing this family of fragile time.

Tick tick tick
as the planet makes its certain turn,
and soft curtains of rain drape themselves
over the foothills in the distance
seen through the bedroom window.

Reliable rain.
Last night it pounded fists on the roof:
hear me hear me hear me.
A lullaby for the living.

fare well
sweet dreams

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Some details from last night:
--my mother's black evening bag, circa 1940-something,
on its chain handle around my wrist
--black silk Farragamo stiletto heels (ouch!)
--a silver brooch in a Book of Kells pattern
--a fringed silk-burnout shawl with Celtic knots
--shimmery stockings

And that was on the modest side.
I did not, unlike some other women, wear:
--a gown with a train
--cleavage that bubbled-up like a boiling-over pan of cream
--ruffles! ruffles! ruffles!
--rustles and rustles of satin/taffeta
--27 yards of lace.

Oh you men, you have it so easy.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

"I can resist everything except temptation. "
--Oscar Wilde